Heather Christle’s poetry is telescopic. It makes you feel both small and big, but always human.
On Jan. 28., the Creative Writing program kicked off the Spring semester reading series with a reading by Christle, a renowned poet and an assistant professor of English and Creative Writing at Emory. Christle was met with a packed house in the Jones Room of the Woodruff Library.
The poet’s husband, Christopher Deweese, introduced Christle to the podium by describing their first romantic encounter while they were graduate students.
“I liked her poetry and then I liked her,” he said. “That was the end of my objectivity.”
Throughout the reading, Christle’s demeanor was a mixture of seriousness and humor. She was warm and made jokes with the audience but channeled a focus and devotion when discussing her work. For instance, to let the audience know she was quoting someone else’s words, Christle raised her right hand, as if swearing an oath.
Christle first read a poem entitled “Thank You For Having Me.” The language of the poem started off casually, and it was mostly about cats. At times, it is comical and simple, like in the line, “Adult cats do not meow at each other.” But toward the end, the poem zooms out to larger, grandiose concepts involving angels.
Then, Christle moved on to the main portion of her reading, during which she read short prose from her new book, “The Crying Book.” The book connects scientific research, literature and the author’s personal experiences to form a holistic image of crying. For example, at the beginning of the book, she uses Ovid’s poem “The Art of Love” to describe how people have suppressed crying throughout history. Later, the book mentions the Netflix sitcom “Crashing” to argue that a lover’s tears could be erotic.
Lines and phrases that stood out from the book included, “crying is the first thing we ever did,” “tears of blood” and “crying does not need a subject.” Her poems grant the audience permission to confront the reasons why we usually avoid vulnerability.
The reading was well-received by the audience, and after its conclusion, many students and community members lined up to have the poet sign their book. This reading has made me reflect on my attitude toward crying. As a man, I have often been discouraged and told that crying is a negative and unmanly thing to do. But I am a person who often cries when something moves me, like a movie, a piece of literature or an encounter in my life. I actually once kept a list of things I cried about, for I think it tells a lot about a person’s identity and uniqueness. I start to question whether or not these views on crying are appropriate.
I think this kind of reflection is the effect that Christle wants to achieve. In a way, she has exposed the emotional restraints we place upon ourselves and others.